I have great pleasure in telling you; apparently there is still some life left in the wired World of wacky weird wonderful IEMs.
I am the temporary owner of a set of Ibasso AM05 universal in ear monitors. Before I dive into nonsensical whimsical prose about linearity, functionality and banality, I must tell you some facts about me and these here tiny things. 1- I try not to read any material, especially reviews, of equipment that I will be getting my mitts on. This is because I am easily led. Without direction my free mind can work itself into a state of overtime. This is probably the hidden pressure I need to garnish the truth, as I see it, from whatever I’m dealing with at the time. I suspect I am haunted by the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes. That being so, I know I walk the tightrope of becoming discredited and labelled a complete fool. So be it. I like what I like. A certain George Orwell, being a lifelong critic of critics, stated that all us types ever did was to regurgitate the words “I like this”, or “I dislike this” into a vacuous splurge of irrelevant waffle. This is my World! Welcome, dear reader!
2 – the Ibasso AM05 is a 5 driver, detachable cable universal in ear monitor. At the time of writing it is on sale for £259 and can be purchased in the UK from amp3, the company who have kindly supplied this to me.
3- The cable supplied is a 2.5mm balanced design. Most of the newest digital audio players have balanced in. For those without balanced, an unbalanced adapter is in the box.
4- The IEMs will be loud enough from a smartphone. You don’t have to use an expensive dap to get good sound from these. A good dap gets you better sound than from a smartphone, so that’s why I use one in the video to test it. I use another review model, the Fiio M11 Pro, to put the AM05 through their paces.
The goody box. I’m afraid the goody box was not that good! Ibasso have put much of the money on this product into the earphones. The case they come with is bog standard, the box they come with is nondescript and the tips are in small plastic pouches. There are no frills here at all. Considering the outstanding looks of the AM05 and the cable; quite frankly, I was shocked.
Because the AM05 is built beautifully. The drivers are sculpted. They conform to the natural contours of the ear.
That is something I am a big fan of. There is nothing industrial looking about these IEMs. There is a ring shaped chin strap on the cable. That is made from a metal but would be too small to be able to feel it in use. The chin slider looks discrete but elegant.
The cable is robustly terminated fore and aft. With see through plastic collars of decent length and girth they should keep the cable in 1 piece unless they go too near a clawhammer or a chainsaw. So be careful with that type of gear around these, please.
The MMCX connectors are a test of strength to push into their unyielding partners. But they eventually do so with an undignified snap. Such is the sad fate of the MMCX cable. It is less prone to being bent than it’s 2 pin counterpart. It is a curse that we must bear, until someone invents an insertion tool. Getting the cables out, wit a decent set of nails, is a piece of cake. I wouldn’t bother doing this too much. I like the cable that has been supplied. I wouldn’t be feeling the need to constantly cable swap. I’d rather spend my time chopping and changing my music choices. But, for those who have lots it can be done. And you know how to do it.
The AM05 sound as good as they look. For once, I am in the position of saying I can recommend these absolutely without reservation at £259 if you want an IEM to commute with on the bus, take out for a stroll, listen in bed, in your favourite armchair etc. I have not taken them to the gym or out for a run. I will sit on the fence as to their ability to deal with prodigious amounts of sweat.
The bass, mid and treble response was compared, by memory, to the £2000 Final Audio A8000 single driver beryllium IEMs.
It was also judged side by side with 2 more expensive in ears, of which I have owned for a number of years. These are the 6 driver Westone W60
and the single driver Sennheiser IE800.
All 3 comparisons are far more expensive than the AM05. And yet….
The bass on the A8000 was the finest I’ve heard in an IEM. The low notes could be both heard and felt beyond what I had previously thought was possible in a driver of that size. The bass on the AM05 was not as visceral and was slightly leaner. But the bass on the AM05 is exactly what I want from my kit. Each note sounds right. It sounds natural and has no bloatedness to it. It never becomes tiring, even on old Beatles tracks, which have way too much thud in them for normal headphones to deal with. The bass never gets in your face. The W60 has too much bass. I now know that from hearing not only products like the AM05, but also the Final A8000 and the LarkStudio LSIV, which I have reviewed recently. The W60 have a large viscerality. They push a considerable amount of ir against the inner prt of the outer ear during bass exchanges. You get a feel of depth of sound; much more so than the AM05. But it is simply not a realistic representation of the music. And it can become tiring after a few minutes. The IE800 has 2 air outlets. For the size of the driver shell, the ports are quite large.
This gives far more viscerality than the AM05, but less than the W60. The bass presence on the IE800 is more realistic than the W60 but less than the AM05. The IE800 bass is more bearable than the W60 but more annoying than the AM05.
Mids. Where the majority of our music lives. When I describe mids I concern myself with how easy it is to hear vocals. Can I make out the words more easily than normal? Vocals, nowadays, are a layer in a multitrack soundstage. Lyrics can swamped amidst all that competition for space. In all but the clearest of receivers there is simply too much distraction. Sound engineers know this and use tuning to try and compromise, or shape the sound to give the mids their own distinctive character in each IEM. The AM05 has a clarity in the mids. Each music track I listened to sounded like it was on point. I was sooo impressed with the way the Ibasso cut through the crap. The sound was neither V shaped or U shaped or banana shaped. It just sounded right. It sounded like the way I want my music to sound. Am I a fan of these IEMs? Yes, by cracky, I am! The A8000 delivered the mids with a degree of precision that I have only really heard in some of the top hi fi systems. It was undoubtedly stunning. The W60 is slightly rolled back, even in the mids, lending to it a bass heavy weight to the sound. Mids can still be heard with a degree of clarity but the sound is more dull than the AM05.
The IE800 has mids that have an airier sound. There super wide presentation lends a thinness to the sound. The W60 and the IE800 for their own separate reasons, sound artificial in comparison to the AM05.
Treble. This is the bit where space between instruments can be found. Or that space can be taken up by screaming guitars, crashing cymbals, falsetto wails that threaten the integrity of the microphones they are being inflicted upon. The echoey stuff. The Final Audio A8000 is a victim of it’s own technical brilliance. It has a glass like presentation, offering the listening a glimpse into the secret World that lies beyond what most music lovers have heard before. Unfortunately glass can cut. And it is simply too much. An hour with the A8000 can become fatiguing. I found myself searching for the volume too many times for this to escape my notice. Not so with the AM05. I am pinching myself that these are coming in at £259. For an IEM, there’s nothing I would change about the AM05. The brain says to me; these things are tiny, so I don’t actually want a vaste sound stage throwing musical effects against the wall. Sure; I put the HiFiMan Ananda BT’s on; a full sized, open headphone, and I get a much larger sound. But I’m expecting that to happen. I want more intimacy from a small, elegant set of in ears. And that’s what happens. The W60 is a rolled off IEM. It sacrifices clarity and precision for warmth and depth. The IE800 is lacking the accuracy of the AM05. It adds a sparkle to the treble that somehow misses being fatiguing but still gives the listener the impression that this adding something extra. It is not altogether unappealing. But it loses to the AM05. And I never thought I’d say that in a £259 IEM!
The packaging needs tweaking. I’m such a fan of the AM05, I feel it has to be perfect in every way! I have to grudgingly admit that everything I needed was there. And once I put the IEMs on it just becomes a vanity thing to have those extras. They don’t seem important any more. And this is why. It is because, at £259, the Ibasso AM05 ticks every single 1 of my musical boxes, for bass, tick, for mids, vocals or main instrument, tick, for treble, space, echo, cymbals, yes, yes, and thrice, resoundingly yes! They outperformed a £2000 IEM. They outperformed a £929 6 driver IEM from a company who’ve been making in ear monitors for 30 years. I have even modded the universals into a custom fit that is absolutely perfect for my ear canals. They beat the single driver IE800, a £599 IEM with vanishingly low distortion levels, unique ear tips, no crossovers and, again, a custom fit that locks them into the sweet spot for my ears alone. Up until now, I had thought that the future laid with bluetooth technology. The TWS600 have become a fixture for me. I found the right tips after almost a year of searching. I found a set of silicon wings that keep them in place, and for the times when an IEM seems the correct mode of transport, they seem to have become the chosen vehicle. The cable thing seemed to be a thing of the past. No more flapping about, twisting behind the ear stuff. The AM05 brought me back from the abyss of bluetooth. For that, I curse you Ibasso! But I also thank you too.